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Job satisfaction? Not much for Britain’s hard slog ’robot’ workers


Having to work harder and act like ‘robots’, with little scope for personal initiative, are the chief reasons for declining job satisfaction in Britain, according to new research sponsored by the ESRC.

Feelings of insecurity, too high expectations and people being ‘over-educated’ and unable to find work to match their qualifications, are largely dismissed as factors, in the study led by Professor Francis Green of the University of Kent. His team found no evidence to back suggestions that the dull mood of workers may be due to successive generations having ever higher expectations from their jobs and being disappointed by the realities of employment.

The investigation, which also looked at other European countries and the United States, signals a falling sense of well-being among both British and German workers, but admits defeat when it comes to explaining the decline in Germany. In Britain, between 1972 and 1983 there was a small downward trend in average job satisfaction. There is a lack of data for much of the 1980s, but during the 1990s, three separate sources show significant declines.

Average job satisfaction also fell in West Germany between 1984 and 1997, after which it recovered slightly until 2000. Immediately after re-unification, East Germans had very much lower job satisfaction than workers in West Germany, but the gap narrowed within a couple of years. After 1994, however, East Germans settled also into a decline, in line with the rest of the country. The study found a modest downward movement in the Netherlands over 1994-2000 and in Finland over 1996-2000, yet in neither case is it significant, nor is there any notable trend elsewhere in Europe.

In the US, there was a small downward trend in job satisfaction from 1972 to 2002. But the figures suggests that even over 100 years, it would only fall by 0.1 points - not much on a possible range of 1 to 4. Professor Green said: “The most satisfied employee is one who is in a secure job, with a high level of individual discretion and participation in decision-making, but not requiring highly intensive work effort. They will be well-matched to their job in terms of both qualifications and hours of work, be well-paid but have relatively low pay expectations.”

Professor Green continued: “In Britain, all of the fall in overall job satisfaction between 1992 and 2001 could be accounted for by people having less personal responsibility and use of initiative in their work, combined with an increase in the effort required. “It was implausible to blame job insecurity, because over this period unemployment had fallen and other evidence suggested a falling sense of insecurity during the latter part of the 1990s.”

His report adds that whilst there had been a small increase in people unable to find work to match their qualifications, this was far too small to account for the effect on job satisfaction.

In Germany through most of the 1990s, the fear of job loss was increasing, unsurprisingly given the rise of unemployment throughout that period, and insecurity partly accounts for the decline in job satisfaction. But, says the study, when the whole period, 1984 to 1998 is analysed, job insecurity cannot explain the downward trend.

Professor Green said: “In short, the case of Germany remains a puzzle. We could find nothing in the data we examined which could account for the decline there.”

Becky Gammon | alfa
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